LAYTON — It’s one thing to build a robot but quite another to get it to open a door. Or put rings on a rack. Or toss a ball. Or turn a fixture 90 degrees.
Davis County students between the ages of 9 and 14 have been working for months to program their robots to complete special missions outlined in the FIRST LEGO League competition.
FIRST stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology,” and the event has expanded worldwide, with over 25,000 teams in almost 80 countries working to develop solutions using technology and teamwork.
“It gives them an opportunity to apply problem-solving skills,” said Lance Powell, who coaches four teams sponsored by Central Davis Junior High.
“They identify a need and work to find an innovative way to address that need,” he said. “It applies math, science and technology in a fun way – no one’s scared of Legos.”
Teams from around the county met last Saturday at Central Davis Junior High to prove their robots. Winners will go on to a state competition. Last year, one state team won at nationals and placed in the world competition.
For some, the performance last Saturday was a success, for others, a disappointment. But for all, it was a learning experience.
“It’s really fun having to program a robot and putting the mission together,” said Matthew Pope, a student at Central Davis. “Sometimes it’s confusing and you have to modify it as you go, but everybody really has to work together to help notice different things that might be wrong with the program.”
It is that teamwork that is one of the benefits of the competition, said David Tanner, principal at Central Davis.
“It’s fun to watch them learn,” said Tanner. “We have a high number of inquisitive students that need the challenge, and it’s especially important for students to learn how to work with each other and accept someone else’s input.”
Being able to work as a team will help students in the workplace, he said.
“For them to combine problem solving skills with technology in an application that is in a simple format is wonderful for kids,” he said.
Besides building the robots, students on each team work together to present a solution to a world problem as part of the competition.
One of Powell’s teams developed a plan for teaching kindergartners to teach their families about fire safety. Another developed a plan to help dyslexic students and another studied how to teach those with Down Syndrome to drive.
In addition to their projects and the success of their robots, students are judged on the “core values” they exibit as a team, including team spirit, respect and cooperation.
“The students that compete in FIRST LEGO League are our future inventors, scientists and business leaders,” said Anne Bastien, as quoted in a press release. Bastien is the operational partner for FLL and a program manager at the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute of the University of Utah, that sponsors the Utah competition.
Besides learning to solve problems, she said, students “gain the motivation to pursue a meaningful education and career path.”